NPR logo Portraits Of Libya's Relentless Rebels

Portraits Of Libya's Relentless Rebels

I arrived a few days after Moammar Gadhafi's army was pushed out of eastern Libya in a series of bloody clashes. I expected to find conflict; instead, I found a carnival. A glorious whirlwind of flags, prayers and chants, martyr stories and burned-out government buildings. People went to bed at 6 a.m.; Al-Jazeera was projected on the wall 24-7; fishermen threw tomato cans full of dynamite into the stormy sea; and cars honked incessantly.

But as time wore on, and Gadhafi consolidated the power he still had, the people of eastern Libya realized they had opened a Pandora's box of violence from which they could never go back. And so they prepared for war. A war to liberate their country.

When this man arrived in Ajdabiya he was full of confidence. The next evening he was in a field hospital, shell-shocked from an airstrike on the road to Tripoli. Trevor Snapp for NPR hide caption

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Trevor Snapp for NPR

When this man arrived in Ajdabiya he was full of confidence. The next evening he was in a field hospital, shell-shocked from an airstrike on the road to Tripoli.

Trevor Snapp for NPR

These anonymous portraits show some of Libya's warriors in the checkpoint town of Ajdabiya in early March. They are soldiers and laborers, businessman and unemployed youth. More than 15,000 volunteered in Benghazi, and thousands more made their way here on their own. I hope these portraits show some of the fear, but mostly the determination felt by the rebels.

At one of the morgues I saw a man, his eyes frozen open, his face a mask of horror. Men touched his head, and kissed his face. "This morning he left his home, he could not see any more of his people die," I was told. Without even a weapon he hitchhiked to the front until he got to the fighting. He wanted to die, the men said — his children could not grow up without the freedom he knew.

Another man met a similar fate, but survived. When I first took his photograph, he had just leapt out of a truck into the crowd at the checkpoint, his body layered in commando gear and confidence. People pressed close to touch him, laughing — also confident. But the next evening I found him in a field hospital: his face covered in ash, unable to speak, shell shocked from an airstrike at sunset on the road to Tripoli.

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The same fighter is seen the day after his portrait was taken. He'd been hit by a blast from an airstrike. Trevor Snapp for NPR hide caption

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Trevor Snapp for NPR

The same fighter is seen the day after his portrait was taken. He'd been hit by a blast from an airstrike.

Trevor Snapp for NPR

I stood at the gate until dark watching young men and old veterans charge toward their fate against almost impossible odds. "He will have to kill every last one of us," a volunteer told me. "We are fighting for freedom. He is fighting for nothing."

See more of Trevor Snapp's photography here.

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